Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about– Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael replied, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip replied, "Come and see." Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, "Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "How do you know me?" Jesus replied, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!" Jesus said to him, "Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these." He continued, "I tell all of you the solemn truth– you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:45-51)
So how did you come to the faith? Last week, some members of our congregation came together to tell our stories about how we got here. Each of us had a chance to tell our "spiritual biography" - a 5-8 minute story on how our journey of faith had brought us to this point in our lives. Everyone had a different path, marked with high points and low valleys. But the "red thread" which ran through each story was the importance of relationships.

Nobody is in a vacuum, we all live as part of a larger community and environment. Those of us who are connected to a faith community didn't get there because of our own volition. We didn't just wake up one morning and say, "Hey! I think I'll go to church. I've never been to church before, don't have a clue what it is, but I really need to go to one right now!" It just doesn't work that way.

If you think about your own faith life, you will see that there are key people who have influenced you and nurtured your faith journey. For me, it was my parents. For my father, it was my mother who brought him to the faith. For my mom, it was a girlfriend in high school who invited her to a youth outing (which happened to be Billy Graham's first Crusade in San Diego back in the 1950's). What's clear is nobody comes to Christ outside relationships.

That's why I love the story of the call of Nathanael in John's Gospel. Philip, Nathanael's friend, "found" him. Philip went looking for his friend and then told him about Jesus. Nathanael, urbane guy that he was, says, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Rather than be intimidated by Nathanael's sarcastic response, Philip replies, "Come and see." Philip does not engage Nathanael in an argument, nor does he chide Nathanael for his cynicism. He just says, "Come and see." When Jesus encounters Nathanael, his cynicism is replaced by trust in who Jesus is and what it means for Israel.

Nathanael only appears one more time in the New Testament - in John 21:2: "Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together." This is the beginning of the story where Jesus appears on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias after his resurrection. Once again, Jesus comes to Nathanael within the context of being with his friends. And that is how Jesus comes to us too. Through our relationships, Jesus comes to us and offers us new life.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Lent-y" Lent

If you observe Lent, the forty days of penitence and fasting before Easter, you'll find there are years where Lent feels really "Lent-y" and other years where it seems to slip by on you. When I was in seminary, Lent never felt really "Lent-y" to me. Not because we didn't observe the rituals of Ash Wednesday, have quiet days and retreats, take time for penitential prayers, or observe the rituals of Holy Week. More because other things from the outside seemed to press in ... little things like projects and papers which had deadlines in Lent. Hard to get away with "giving up papers for Lent" in seminary ... sometimes the papers felt like penance in and of themselves.

This year, it's as if I'm making up for three years of Lent slipping by with seminary busyness. We had our Annual Meeting today at Gathered by Christ. It was the first one they've ever had in their 10 years of existence. The former vicar was very informal and didn't really do this kind of thing. No matter, this year we had to do it.

It was not easy to look these five families in the eye and be completely honest about our financial condition. Truth is they cannot afford my services, even as a part-time priest. Not that it's ever really been part-time ... more like part-time pay and full-time work. Church planting is never a part-time proposition! Anyway, the numbers don't lie. We have to come up with a faithful response to the situation and let God lead us in where we need to go. Sticking our heads in the sand and "hoping for a miracle" isn't a faithful response. If God wants to work a miracle, God's going to do it even if we do nothing! I think God will work a miracle, but it might not be what the congregation wanted it to be.

It is tempting to rely on the "hope for a miracle." I heard people say that at the bedside of dying patients when I did my Clinical Pastoral Education. Usually when we say that, we're really hoping God will do what we want rather than being open to what God wants. "Let's just hope for a miracle" ends up being a form of denial.

But God works with us and through our decisions. That's what we believe as Anglicans. We ground our faith on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. This means we use Scripture and Tradition to inform our faith, but they are held in tension with our God-given Reason. God gave us a brain and expects us to use it. I think God wants to work in partnership with us when the going gets tough - God does not want us to shirk our responsibility for working through the options. If we bail out with the "hope for a miracle" approach, we take no responsibility for the outcome and then we can blame God for not pulling a rabbit out of the hat in the 11th hour. That sure can leave us with a damaged relationship with the Lord!

So Lent is turning very "Lent-y" as we begin a process of discernment on the Tuesdays of Lent. We will meet weekly to pray, tell our stories, contemplate specific questions about what God is doing in our individual lives and how that impacts the group. Through this process, we'll see how stories from Scripture intersect with our stories. And out of this, the Holy Spirit will be present and will begin to clarify where this is all heading.

So Lent will be "Lent-y" this year ... and resurrection will happen. It won't take the form we thought it would, but I'm looking forward to how God is going to surprise us all.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Priestly Mash

Last Saturday on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (Candlemas), I was ordained a priest! I know, it was Ground Hog Day too. Fortunately, I did not see my shadow, so I didn't have to remain a deacon for 6 more weeks. ;-)

It's been a long time coming and the service was amazing. Yes, it was full-throttle "smells, bells and yells" (well, not so much yells, but a little chanting from our bishop!) and the music was awesome. There were probably 250 people there - what a celebration!

The Episcopal Church follows the ancient rites of ordination which were first recorded by Hippolytus around 200 C.E. (hey, why change what works?). When a deacon is ordained, only the bishop lays hands on the person being ordained. But when you ordain a priest, the bishop lays hands on the ordinand's head and all the other priests lay their hands on your shoulders, neck, back ... wherever they can get a hand in without getting too personal. ;-) There were so many priests that the weight of all those hands was quite a mash and I'm thankful I don't have spinal compression problems! It was intense ... and very emotional.

But as is usual with me, a funny story ran through my brain in the split instant all those hands were pressing down on me. It was the story of Gregory the Great, who was elected pope in the mid-sixth century. He was a monastic deacon at the time of his election and really didn't want the job initially. So he ran away! He returned to the monastery and in time he accepted his election and became Pope Gregory I. I figured it would really be hard to run away with all those hands pressing down on me ... maybe this rite had practical applications in addition to the symbolic! :-D

It was time to do this and I had no intention of bolting for the door. I'd done the running away part for quite some time before God wore me out. Guess the good Lord gave me a gift of persistence, even when I don't use it well. Fortunately, God's more patient with me than I can fully appreciate or understand. That's grace in action for all of us.